Being in Japan and not eating the original Japanese tofu would be impossible for me. Without any doubt you can get tofu at yours, but that’s not the same thing. Fresh, locally produced and in different forms. Soft, hard and freeze-dried tofu is highly available in stores and local shops. Tofu is also very common in bento boxes and added to many dishes. It is rich in calcium and iron. It is also a good source of proteins. What is more, it is low in fats and carbs.
Soft and hard tofu is widely available. It is sold as a snack in small packages of two or three cubes packed separately. You can find it in take away boxes both as a base of the meal and as a topping. As a lunch meal, hard tofu is served only with soy sauce and bonito flakes – fermented, dried and smoked fish flakes.
Soft tofu is silky, a little bit creamy and it is a pleasure to eat it separately. It is full of unique flavors, so there is no need either to soak it in any sauce or marinate it before serving. I would say that you could just eat it like a dessert. At home I am using soft tofu for shakes with fruits or mix it with chia seeds to get a pudding, but here, in Japan, we haven’t found anything like that.
Hard tofu is quite different. The color is darker, and you can often see a square pattern left after straining. The taste is less subtle, it is more crumbling and savory. The idea of soaking it beforehand is a good one. Adding some soy sauce, mirin and wasabi accentuates its aromas and make it ready for frying or for eating it straightforwardly. Topping hard tofu with fish flakes or with cut seaweeds is a hearty and satiating meal.
While soft and hard tofu is very popular also abroad, freeze-dried tofu is not so commonly used. So, what is that? What is like? How to serve it? Koya dofu also known as shimidofu is made of soy, some coagulants and baking soda. It also uses nigari, that is more or less a composition of magnesium chloride with some parts of magnesium sulfate.
Koya dofu is usually sold in packages and looks like a box of sponges. As it is dehydrated before packing, prior to serving it should be soaked in water, broth or any sauce. Koya dofu is mainly used in stews and soups. As it is highly absorbent, boiling it all together gives tofu extra flavors. You can also make a traditional Japanese marinate based on soy sauce, mirin, sake, dash of wasabi and a little bit of sugar. Then put it to the fridge for a couple of hours or for overnight. Koya dofu is tougher than a regular tofu, however it is still tender.
Another good point about shimidofu is that while dehydrated, you don’t have to store it in the fridge and you can keep it for a longer period of time.
And remember – tofu is a really good source of proteins, so it is a great alternative for meat. You can also try Goma Dofu - a tofu-like dish made from sesame seeds.